Learning to fly aerobatic figures and sequences is the best way to become a precise, confident, safe pilot. Aerobatics is "pure flying" that demands the most from a pilot and airplane. But it can be unforgiving of lapses of discipline, poor training, and equipment that's not maintained to a high standard.
There is no substitute for instruction. You must learn not only how to safely perform aerobatic figures, but especially must learn and practice recovery from the unusual attitudes in which you can find yourself when you make a mistake. Only after you are a safe and confident aerobatic pilot, should you fly aerobatics solo, attend an aerobatic camp, or prepare to participate in your first contest.
Safe aerobatic flying requires dual instruction from an experienced aerobatic instructor. Watching YouTube videos and reading books on aerobatic flying will help with understanding the theory, but they are never a substitute for instruction. Below is a list of flight schools in California offering aerobatic instruction and upset recovery programs we recommend. It is our chapter's opinion that instructors should have IAC competition experience and that a thorough spin and upset recovery program be completed by any pilot wanting to fly aerobatics solo.
Whenever we fly, we want to be physically at our best. Flying aerobatic figures imposes greater physical demands on pilots, and you should not fly if you're even a little under the weather (no pun intended): you should be healthy, feeling well, and hydrated.
Consider wearing safety gear for recreational and competition aerobatics, including both practice flights and contests. Beyond an emergency parachute for you and your passenger, these items can include flame-resistant flying gloves, shoes and socks, a helmet, and a flame-resistant flight suit, which will contribute additional protection in the case of emergency. As part of your run-up procedure, perform a mental rehearsal of bailout procedures; for example: the steps to release/jettison the airplane canopy or door, release seat and shoulder harness fasteners, and exit the airplane.
There is also no substitute for an airplane that meets the standard for certification in the Aerobatic category. There are many Experimental Category airplanes that meet this standard; Pitts Special models are renowned examples. Light Sport Airplanes that meet the standard are very rare; don't assume any LSA meets the standard. Visit the Aerobatic Planes page for examples of appropriate aircraft.
During an aerobatic contest, there are additional safety procedures in place. Before any box practice, a pilot's credentials and airplane must pass a technical inspection. The technical inspection standard includes checking the emergency parachute for a current inspection and reviewing aircraft and engine logs to ensure the plane has had its annual or conditional inspection.
"Box monitors" keep the aerobatic box at the contest site under observation to mitigate the risk of potential traffic conflicts. You might ask experienced competitors and judges to watch your practice flights and offer you suggestions to improve your performance. They might also see safety issues that could be brought to your attention.
The IAC contest rules also allow the use of a "safety pilot" for beginners and lower level competitors, whereby a more experienced pilot flies with the competitor and is there to monitor and recover from unsafe conditions like an inadvertent spin or flying too low. Take advantage of this option when first starting out.
A prescribed, published sequence of aerobatic figures called the "Known" is the first flight of the contest for every competitor. Like all contest flights, it's evaluated by at least three teams of judges. If the judges determine that a pilot's performance of the Known sequence indicates a safety risk, the pilot can be disqualified from subsequent flights during that contest.
There is no substitute for instruction in order to learn to safely perform aerobatic figures.
This should not be taken as a complete list of all aerobatic school or instructors in California, but rather as suggestions by Chapter 26. The IAC also maintains a database of aerobatic flight schools in the U.S. and internationally.
KSZP, Santa Paula, California
Decathlon, Super Decathlon, Citabria
KSZP, Santa Paula, California
NSNA, Santa Ana, California
Citabria, Decathlon, Pitts S-2B, Extra 300
Tutima Academy of Aviation Safety
KKIC, King City, California
Extra 300L, Pitts S-2C, Pitts S-2B
KMHV, Mojave, California
by Bruce Mamont of IAC Chapter 67 and Susan Bell, IAC #438132